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Stone-faced Birds Staring Out From Beyond the Grave

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The best Halloween stories are true. There is a lake in Tanzania, Lake Natron, that is so hostile to life that only two species, alkaline tilapia and blue-green algae can live in its deadly waters. For the rest of us, its water is so caustic it will burn your lungs (and melt the ink off your film boxes, if you’re a photographer) as it turns you slowly to stone. Nobody knows exactly how it kills, but it is thought that its thick, stagnant waters produce a surface so glassy calm that birds and small mammals are lured into its clutches like a songbird to a window on a sunny day. But whatever they see in the reflection is only a mirage and once immersed, the heavy waters trap the unlucky victims, turning them to stone.

Nick Brandt, Calcified Bat II

Calcified Bat II, Lake Natron, 2012 © Nick Brandt 2013 Courtesy of Hasted Kraeutler Gallery, NY

Nick Brandt, Calcified Dove

Calcified Dove, Lake Natron, 2010 © Nick Brandt 2013 Courtesy of Hasted Kraeutler Gallery, NY

Photographer Nick Brandt came across these unlucky victims on the shores of Lake Natron and posed them as though they were living to produce these haunting images. They are part of a photography exhibit on display in New York and LA through Nov. 2nd, as well as in Santa Fe, NM and Paris, Berlin, London and Brussels through out the winter. They are also contained within Brandt’s new book, Across the Ravaged Land.

Nick Brandt, Calcified Eagle

Calcified Fish Eagle, Lake Natron, 2012 © Nick Brandt 2013 Courtesy of Hasted Kraeutler Gallery, NY

Nick Brandt, Calcified Flamingo

Calcified Flamingo, Lake Natron, 2010 © Nick Brandt 2013 Courtesy of Hasted Kraeutler Gallery, NY

Happy Halloween.

Nick Brandt’s portfolio
Across the Ravaged Land
Hasted Kraeutler Gallery, New York
Fahey/Klein Gallery, Los Angeles

Kalliopi Monoyios About the Author: Kalliopi Monoyios is an independent science illustrator. She has illustrated several popular science books including Neil Shubin's Your Inner Fish and The Universe Within, and Jerry Coyne's Why Evolution is True. Find her at Follow on Twitter @symbiartic.

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.

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  1. 1. Owl905 12:33 am 11/1/2013

    It’s a tad morbid, but that really is some pretty impressive photography.

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  2. 2. 1:11 am 11/1/2013


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  3. 3. Trafalgar 6:56 am 11/1/2013

    Holy gargoyles, Batman!

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  4. 4. BoRon 7:50 am 11/1/2013

    Shouldn’t the bat be below the branch?

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  5. 5. kaliflamingo 12:15 pm 11/1/2013

    The bat IS below the branch, they have the pic upside down.

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  6. 6. Wayne Williamson 5:17 pm 11/1/2013

    I agree with the other posters…this is cool…
    I wonder if they’ve done any carbon dating to see how long ago they got “trapped”.

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  7. 7. kienhua68 6:54 pm 11/3/2013

    Might be better to take measures to prevent such horrible death? I mean instead of just staring blankly at them as objects of art.

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  8. 8. Percival 4:33 am 11/5/2013

    kienhua68, you might want to read the Wikipedia article on Lake Natron:

    “The lake is the only regular breeding area in East Africa for the 2.5 million Lesser Flamingoes, whose status of “near threatened” is a consequence of their dependence on the single breeding location. As salinity increases, so do the number of cyanobacteria, and the lake can support more nests.”

    Some places on Earth can be dangerous for those not adapted to harsh conditions. For those that are, it’s home sweet home.

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  9. 9. 3:16 pm 11/5/2013

    Good eye, BoRon and kaliflamingo. However, if you go to the artist’s website, what you see posted here is exactly how he displays the bat image.

    Considering how meticulous Brandt is (he forbids people reusing his images to crop them in any way, for any reason), I’d bet good money this is not a mistake.

    Link to this

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